As the critics of Julian Assange noisily suggest that he and WikiLeaks are a threat to national security, it is well to ask ourselves what really threatens national security.
In his Farewell Address of January 17, 1961, President Eisenhower did not focus on communism and the Soviet Union, which for many years had been identified by U.S. governments as threats. He devoted but one paragraph to that "hostile ideology." Instead, he dwelt upon three grave domestic threats. The first was the military-industrial complex.
"But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only…
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications…
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
The second threat he identified was the conjunction of the federal government with universities:
"The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.
"Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."
The third threat was financial mismanagement:
"As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
All three of these threats are now actualities that have grown in size and power. They have harmed and continue to harm a great many Americans. The nation has been taken into unnecessary wars that have drained its human and material resources while impeding more fruitful economic growth. The leadership has come from the nation's federally and state-supported universities. The ideas have come from intellectuals trained in these universities. The financing has been aided by the nation's central bank.
The institutions that embody the three threats noted by Eisenhower have not only grown in size and importance, they have also become complementary to one another as subsidiaries that operate together to support the enterprise known as the American Empire. The empire is supported by a central bank that enables the creation of an ever-larger debt burden. It is manned by men and women of empire who rotate through posts in government, academia, foundations, lobbies, and the military-industrial complex. Government oversees its operation and creates the additional financial, military, intelligence, and diplomatic institutions that turn it into a world-girdling empire.
Now, it is extremely interesting that Ike was worried mainly about domestic threats. And he was not referring to the so-called "domestic extremists" that the FBI and the DHS are so worried about. He was not referring to isolated cases of homegrown bombers or terrorists. He was not talking about such terrors as young men who seek jihad in the embrace of FBI double agents, or even men who plant explosives in their shoes or underwear.
Ike was not worried about isolated persons or groups that turn to violence. He was worried about threats that had organizations behind them that had know-how, power, money, and influence. These important threats worked through institutions, and these institutions reached everywhere in America. They were pervasive. He was worried about existing, respected, powerful, influential, well-financed, and pervasive institutions that accumulate excessive power. He was worried about government being absorbed by and absorbing these institutions, so that they fuse into one. In short, he was worried about America's developing a corporatist state.
His address is very pointed and clear. He speaks of an "immense military" of "vast proportions." He speaks of its "total influence" being widely felt, and he worries about its "unwarranted influence" that affects "the very structure of our society." He says it may "endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
As one remedy, Ike calls for a reduction in the size and scope of the military establishment: "Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative."
Apart from some reduction in nuclear arms, the U.S., spurning Ike's advice, remains a very heavily armed nation with a global presence.
As a second remedy, Ike looks toward Americans themselves to guard against the corporatist state:
"Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
The words "only" and "compel" make this a very strong statement. The force or power of citizens themselves is necessary to keep the government in check and preserve liberty.
But this citizenry must be "knowledgeable." If the people do not know what's going on in the secret lairs of the corporatist state and if, to the contrary, they are educated and propagandized to support that state, even though it harms them, then their legitimate power to compel in order to preserve their life, liberty, and property (i.e., their rights) is accordingly reduced.
This is where Julian Assange sees himself and WikiLeaks fitting in. He has the aim of supplying facts that governments and other institutions hide, facts that we need so as to be knowledgeable. That begins our assignment. It is up to the rest of us to interpret these facts so as to understand what they mean and what they are telling us about our governments.
If anything, Assange and WikiLeaks are beneficial to our quest for national security by providing key inputs to the process of monitoring government.
The largest threats Americans face are not foreign threats. They are not the threats of terrorists. They are not threats from hurricanes, floods, or droughts. They are not threats from biological viruses. They are not threats from environmental destruction or man-made climate change. They are not even threats from the blowing up of airplanes and buildings, with the accompanying injuries and loss of lives. These events are not of the organized, ongoing, pervasive, overwhelming, powerful, well-funded, and well-planned type that change the very structure of society.
The gravest threats to their security that Americans face are domestic. They come from government. Government is strongly institutionalized. It is in place. It is everywhere. Government communicates to the public. Its speech invariably gets publicity. Government still commands a significant degree of trust. Government monopolizes certain missions that are crucial to Americans. Consequently its threats to national security are much more serious than any of the threats it purports to fight, including terrorism.
America now has a corporatist state that is growing by the day, week, month, and year. What Ike seemed to fear, but did not quite articulate at that juncture, has come to pass. The government itself is now the single largest threat to national security. A few of the latest signs of this include the Patriot Act, loss of due process, militarization of police, a high degree of corruption within the justice system, the Department of Homeland Security, expansive use of executive orders and notions of inherent powers, and threats of unconstitutional martial law and emergency rule.
We are at a point where, to avoid being jailed, most of us have to sacrifice what we regard as our legitimate interests and rights. We are forced to give in and obey. At the same time, we lack the power to stand up against these challenges to our rights and interests.
A nation of persons in this position lacks national security. We lack security against the depredations of our own government and the corporatist state.
Who does not harbor fear that he or she will be found out for violating some "crime" that is now on the books? Who cannot easily be framed for being in possession of planted drugs or some other forbidden object? Who cannot be beaten or even shot to death for a random motion of his arm? Who can fly without being x-rayed or assaulted? Whose possessions cannot be seized and forfeited under the thinnest or pretexts? Who dares not to pay their taxes? How many people fear protesting? How secure do young persons feel when students are warned that their futures are at stake if they read cables released by WikiLeaks?
Government grows step by step with pretexts and rationales for its growth. A major one is national security. The concept of national security has expanded drastically since its inception (see here). At the outset, it meant little more than for a nation to be free from being dictated to by other nations. This accorded with the concept of negative rights. By the time we get to Obama, national security has become a term that is used to comprehend and cover the government's broad political and economic agenda. It is now a term invoked to justify almost anything that those in charge of big government choose to do: manipulating the financial system, controlling the internet, attacking other countries, subsidizing favored energy projects, favoring certain allies, controlling education, controlling transportation, controlling the economy, controlling obesity, controlling health, and creating and expanding a war on terror that knows no time, space, or resource limits.
Do Julian Assange and WikiLeaks really threaten American national security? That is actually a very implausible assertion. The U.S. faces very few and limited foreign threats, and the ones it does face are either of its own making or exacerbated by its intrusive policies around the world. What threats there are, including terrorist threats, can be reduced by more enlightened policies overseas and at home. This would mean shrinking the empire and shrinking domestic government while setting free American entrepreneurialism.
It is too soon to tell whether the material that WikiLeaks releases will be used for significant good or ill, whether it is a factor making for lesser or greater public support for big government, and whether it is a factor that makes for lesser or yet greater exercise of government power over Americans. A great deal of history remains to unfold.
But no matter how this plays out, when the critics raise the charge of national security threat against Assange and WikiLeaks, it is not only laughable but also, unfortunately, a diversion from the truth, which is that the largest and gravest threat to Americans is a domestic one — their own government — and President Eisenhower identified this incipient threat 50 years ago. In doing so, he reminded us of ideas expressed even more boldly and explicitly at the time of the American Revolution. These ideas are political gold, waiting to be restored to circulation by Americans.
December 15, 2010